The History Of The Algonquin Cocktails
I am able to find three unique Algonquin cocktail recipes, and I don’t think the three are related at all. The Oldest is from the 1926 book “The Cocktail Book” by L.C. Page. That recipe is just genever and wormwood bitters. The second is from 1935 book “Along the Wine Trail” by G. Selmer Fougner. That is the most commonly cited recipe, and in that book, it is called the “New Algonquin” cocktail. The Third recipe is from the 1951 book “Bottoms Up” by Ted Saucier. That recipe uses rum, blackberry brandy, benedictine, and lime juice. Ted Saucier, the lead publicist and historian for the Waldorf-Astoria after Crockett left, cites his recipe as the recipe used at the Algonquin Hotel. Saucier knew his stuff and is a very reputable source. He replaced Albert Crockett (The guy who wrote the Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book), and his book is notable for having the first Negroni recipe, saving the Last Word recipe, and along with Embury, accurately documenting post-prohibition New York cocktail culture.
Interest in the Algonquin stems from being the weekly meeting place for a group of influential New York authors during prohibition. The Algonquin Round Table, as the group became known, was made up of newspaper and magazine columnists, playwrights, actors, comedians, screenwriters, directors, and editors for major magazines. Needless to say, the group was very influential on the literary and art scene of the time.
People in the cocktail world are curious to know what this group drank, and the most common recipe used for the Algonquin cocktail is the New Algonquin recipe from the Fougner book. I personally don’t think this was the recipe used by the hotel and enjoyed by the members of the Algonquin Round Table. In fact, I don’t think this group ever actually enjoyed an alcoholic beverage there ever. The hotel owner and head manager, Frank Case, was a firm and vocal supporter of prohibition. Frank Case voted dry and voluntarily stopped serving alcohol at the Algonquin in 1917. Three years before the start of prohibition. The group met for ten years, beginning in 1919, and eventually stopped around 1929, four years before the end of prohibition. It’s doubtful this group ever had a cocktail there.
Algonquin is also not a unique word or name. Algonquin is the name of the indigenous people who occupied most of the North American northeast. The term Algonquin is everywhere. There are towns, lakes, gas stations, bars, restaurants, barbershops, etc., named Algonquin. It doesn’t mean much if the recipe from “Along the Wine Trail” and the hotel share the same name if the name is common. Fougner also never states that the recipe is from the hotel. It’s just called the “New Algonquin.” The only recipe of the three cited as the Algonquin hotel’s recipe is the Saucier one. Frank Case ran the Algonquin till his death in 1946. Considering Ted Saucier’s proximity to the New York drinking culture and hotel industry, the fact he was a skilled publicist and New York historian, and that he cites his explicitly as the hotel’s recipe, I imagine his was the authentic recipe used at the Algonquin Hotel after prohibition. Again because the hotel was most likely genuinely dry, I doubt the famed Algonquin Round Table even had Saucier’s recipe.
So if they couldn’t drink, why would this group of young artists and writers choose the Algonquin to meet? While a staunch dry, Frank Case was very supportive of the arts and especially authors. The group got to eat for free at their meetings, and visiting published authors got to stay at the hotel for free too. Frank Case went out of his way to accommodate the group, and the Algonquin continues Case’s support for authors today by providing published authors with a free or reduced stay at the hotel in exchange for a signed copy of their book.
The recipe I have provided here is the Algonquin recipe from the Saucier book that he attributes to the Algonquin hotel in New York. I prefer this recipe to the one with rye, dry vermouth, and pineapple juice. This recipe is a nice balance of sweet, herbal, and sour.